Teaching and learning – we think they go hand in hand, but sometimes, oddly enough, they’re at odds with each other. Especially when it comes to early childhood.
We know that young children learn through play, not through worksheets; with their whole bodies, not just their eyes and ears; and through concrete experiences, not discussions of abstract concepts. So where does “teaching” fit into this?
Well, not very comfortably.
Young children need caring adults, fresh air, outdoor play, stories, songs, and a variety of materials to play with. They need to explore and create. But do they need “teaching”? Maybe not so much.
A story: This week a group of three- to five-year-olds and I were exploring making music with a tom-tom type drum. I showed them a few ways it could be played, and then we all took turns. I encouraged them to try different ways to play. Well, one little boy took the drum and unexpectedly announced, “Ladies and gentlemen! Close your eyes!” Okay, I thought. I closed my eyes and waited. “I will now make a boom of thunder!” he said, and proceeded to create a very impressive boom. The room erupted in shrieks and laughter.
Now this is the dangerous point. This is where I could step in and say, “Okay, let’s calm down.” or “Let’s not get too silly.” or any number of creativity-squashing directions. Thank goodness I had a more relaxed attitude that particular day, because I was able to enjoy and appreciate this moment, which led to many more “out of the box” performances.
It got me thinking, though, how often we teachers nip creative learning in the bud. We’re so afraid of losing control of the classroom, so wary of the chaos which, admittedly, lurks around every corner in preschool.
But children learn through play. And if we’re going to commit to that, we have to be prepared for some silliness, some loudness, for our “lesson plans” to be gleefully stomped on. And the paradox: this group, which is usually very rowdy and rambunctious, was engaged and focused throughout the activity. A little less teaching, a little more learning.